VOLUME 17 ISSUE 6 December 2020

Maria Hadjiathanasiou
Horizon 2020 (MSCA Widening) Research Fellow
Department of Politics and Governance, School of Law
University of Nicosia


“There is no single future until it happens, and any effort to envision geopolitics in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic must include a range of possible futures”.[1] This sentence, borrowed from Joseph S. Nye’s recent opinion piece on post-pandemic geopolitics, provides an easy answer to the missing question mark (not) found at the end of this special issue’s title: “Cyprus Foreign Policy – The Way Forward”. What is, then, the ‘way forward’, and how do we get there in regards to the Republic of Cyprus’s foreign policy? How does the state of Cyprus approach the future, at this specific moment in time, amidst the unprecedented global challenge of COVID-19 and amidst several other challenges, pre-existing but also new and ‘rebranded’ ones? When we refer to this future and ‘forward’ ‘way’ to ‘Cyprus foreign policy’, what do we mean, and to what extent does the Republic of Cyprus (official state organs and citizens, together) can shape it? This short article does not claim to answer the above questions; it merely provides some of the author’s current (and scattered) thoughts on current issues that concern the Republic of Cyprus and its foreign policy.

Nye seems disarmingly honest in his dictum: “There is no single future until it happens”. What states, what all states, are required by necessity to do today, is to envision ‘a range of possible futures’ for themselves and in relation to others, decide on the most appealing one, design the ways they are approaching it, until they make it (or not make it) ‘happen’. It would be an easy and lazy ‘way out’, for ‘small states’ such as Cyprus, to hide behind the realities of our size, adopting a ‘wait-and-see’ approach, restrained and defined by our (actual and perceived) limitations rather than our possibilities (similarly, actual and perceived), trapped in an infinite loop of reactions against others’ initiatives (be that Greece, Turkey, the EU, the US, the UK, Russia…).

Our size should not define our stature.[2] “A man’s height starts at their feet, and reaches to their head. From there onward, begins their stature.”, Greek poet Argyris Chionis wrote.[3] Paraphrasing the quote, we suggest: the Republic of Cyprus should start imagining its ‘stature’. It should start doing so by attempting to see beyond the reflection of its ‘height’. The latter has a natural limit, the former one does not; and, it doesn’t, because stature resides in the ‘imagination’ of the people, both of the Cypriot people and the international public. It was Albert Camus who, in a visit to Athens in April 1955, attending as a keynote speaker a round table discussion on the future of the European civilisation, along with some of the greatest Greek minds of the time (e.g. C. Tsatsos, G. Theotokas), spoke about the years to come. “I have”, he said, “a rather rich imagination for the years to come. These are years that belong to me. In that sense, they are present for me. Everything in front of me […], everything that can make me suffer or give me joy, is my present”.[4] The COVID-19 pandemic and Turkey’s multileveled provocations (beyond parallel, excluding the invasion of 1974), make up a large part of Cyprus’s “present”. The pandemic and Erdogan government’s threatening actions and also threatening political rhetoric, are arguably the present problems monopolising and, to a large extent, defining Cyprus’s 2020 foreign policy considerations. Ad hoc engagement with these problems and their (attempted) treatment does not suffice. We need to come up with imaginative, creative yet realistic, 21st century solutions that drive us towards an improved present and a more hopeful and secure future.

 Both problems, the pandemic and the Turkish government’s aggressiveness pose an existential threat to the Republic; the former as a new threat, the latter as a diachronic and persistent threat since 1974. The way the Republic of Cyprus currently handles and communicates these, shapes internal perceptions and experiences, and creates external perceptions, that eventually form local and international public opinion, and affect the state’s political legitimacy. Yet, neither of these two problems is the “real problem”. “The real problem is knowing if we want to survive as a culture”.[5] It is an eternal truth, that speaks volumes today, as it did in the past, that “Civilizations die from suicide, not by murder”.[6] In other words, as many great thinkers argued, “the main enemy of a culture is generally itself. If European culture [or the culture of Cyprus, in our case, with all its regional and Western infusions] is in danger, it is undoubtedly because [old and modern] Empires or cultures are exerting external pressure on it, but mainly [my italics] because it is neither healthy enough nor strong enough to respond to this challenge of history”.[7] The pandemic is a challenge of history. Turkey is a challenge of the Republic of Cyprus’s history. At the same time, the pandemic is an opportunity for countries to re-imagine, re-activate and re-present themselves to their citizens and to the international public. On the other hand, Turkey’s renewed and intensified provocations may be seen as a warning bell, reminding us that in international relations nothing remains static, and change takes place whether we like it or not (see for example, Ersin Tatar’s election as President of ‘trnC’ and how this is interpreted by local and international actors).

“How does one hate a country, or love one?” the American author Ursula K. Le Guin wrote, only to continue “I know people, I know towns, farms, hills and rivers and rocks, I know how the sun at sunset in autumn falls on the side of a certain plowland in the hills; but what is the sense of giving a boundary to all that, of giving it a name and ceasing to love where the name ceases to apply? What is love of one’s country; is it hate of one’s uncountry?”[8] How do people love or hate countries? And even though this simplified-to-the-extreme question may seem crude, nonetheless it bears validity. One example of its application may be found in the “Good Country Index” which, since 2014, “measures what each country on earth contributes to the common good of humanity, and what it takes away, relative to its size”.[9] The index reports on each country’s positive and negative external impacts, outside its own borders, on the world we all share. In the index’s latest version, Cyprus ranks 12th  out of 149 countries.[10] Cyprus’s global contribution to Science & Technology, Culture, International Peace & Security, World Order, Planet & Climate, Prosperity & Equality and, Health & Wellbeing (as the index categorises contributions), is arguably disproportionate to it size, it nevertheless creates a certain image regarding its global stature.

If we were to replace Le Guin’s ‘love’, we could do it by ‘a good impression’. In other words, how do people create good and bad impressions on foreign countries? Cyprus creates ‘a good impression’, persuading the global public for its contribution to the world, exerting credibility because of its stance towards global priorities as the ones seen above. The Cypriot state should build further on this ‘good name’ and take every opportunity to publicize its achievements and communicate with honesty its drawbacks through transparency and a sense of responsibility. By creating and maintaining a good impression abroad, the state’s stature rises, regardless – or in spite – of its size. Using the same reasoning, it is only logical to argue that the latest story of ‘The Cyprus Papers’ (Al Jazeera Investigations documentary) is a significant blow to the country’s name and stature. And it is here that Christos Yannaras’s 2003 words on the quality of the Cypriot House of Representatives sound eerily current: “With half the island enslaved to Turkish barbarism, with Attila’s breath outside the doors of their homes, the Greek Cypriots express themselves politically with humiliated skirmishes of mediocre stature, people of comically tragic inadequacy, who insist on having imprudent ambitions”.[11]

Proposing and putting into practice new, realistic means of resistance to external threats, while utilising to the maximum the toolkit that the Republic of Cyprus has already developed, should be the state’s concern and aim. The animate material of the Republic of Cyprus should do some critical thinking “about who they are and what they want to be”[12] in order to envision possible future(s). Yes, “there is no single future until it happens”; however smart states design and create it, they don’t wait for it to happen.

[1] Joseph S. Nye, Jr., “Post-Pandemic Geopolitics”, Project Syndicate webpage, 6 October 2020, https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/five-scenarios-for-international-order-in-2030-by-joseph-s-nye-2020-10?barrier=accesspaylog

last accessed 22 November 2020.

[2] The word ‘stature’ is translated from the original in Greek «ανάστημα».

[3] Greek poet (1943-2011), «Το ύψος του ανθρώπου ξεκινά από τα πόδια, και φτάνει μέχρι το κεφάλι. Από εκεί και πάνω ξεκινάει το ανάστημά του.» Αργύρης Χιόνης

[4] Albert Camus, Το Μέλλον του Ευρωπαϊκού Πολιτισμού (Lavenir de la civilisation européenne), (Athens: Patakis, 2018), pp.166-67. «[Έ]χω […] μια αρκετά πλούσια φαντασία για τα χρόνια που μέλλουν να έρθουν. Είναι χρόνια που μου ανήκουν. Με αυτή την έννοια, είναι παρόντα για μένα. Ό,τι βρίσκεται μπροστά μου, με τρόπο αισθητό, ό,τι  μπορεί να με κάνει να υποφέρω ή να μου δώσει χαρά, είναι το παρόν μου.»

[5] Camus, pp.155-56. «Το αληθινό πρόβλημα είναι να ξέρουμε αν θέλουμε να επιβιώσουμε ως πολιτισμός.»

[6] Arnold J. Toynbee

[7] Camus, p.141. «[Ο] κύριος εχθρός ενός πολιτισμού είναι γενικά ο ίδιος του ο εαυτός. Αν ο ευρωπαϊκός πολιτισμός κινδυνεύει, αυτό συμβαίνει αναμφισβήτητα επειδή Αυτοκρατορίες ή πολιτισμοί ασκούν σ’ αυτόν εξωτερικές πιέσεις, κυρίως, όμως, κινδυνεύει επειδή δεν είναι ούτε αρκετά υγιής αλλά ούτε και αρκετά ισχυρός ώστε να αντιδράσει σε τούτη την πρόκληση της ιστορίας.»

[8] Ursula K. Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness (1969)

[9] About The Good Country Index, https://www.goodcountry.org/index/about-the-index/

[10] The Good Country Index, https://index.goodcountry.org/

[11] Christos Yannaras, ‘Το ανεξάρτητο κράτος της Κύπρου’ (‘The independent state of Cyprus’), Πολιτιστική Διπλωματία: Προθεωρία Ελληνικού Σχεδιασμού (Cultural Diplomacy: Preview of Greek Design), (Athens: Ikaros, 2003), pp.238-49, p.243. «Με το μισό νησί υπόδουλο στην τουρκική βαρβαρότητα, με την ανάσα του Αττίλα έξω από τις πόρτες των σπιτιών τους, οι Ελληνοκύπριοι εκφράζονται πολιτικά με ευτελισμένες αλληλομαχίες μετριότατων αναστημάτων, ανθρώπων κωμικοτραγικής ανεπάρκειας, που επιμένουν να φιλοδοξούν αλόγιστα.»

[12] Yannaras, p.244. «Στην περίπτωση της Κύπρου οι Έλληνες έδειξαν να βρίσκονται σε αμηχανία και σύγχυση για το ποιοι είναι και τί θέλουν να είναι.»